Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for

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Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for

CLEVELAND Jon Lester said his confidence never totally disappeared when he went nearly two months without a win.

Sure it took a beating and was a little bloodied when the Toronto Blue Jays rocked him at Fenway Park in the worst start of his career. Going a career-worst seven starts without a win would take the starch out of any elite starting pitcher thats used to achieving good results, and plenty of them.

So Sunday afternoons masterpiece of mound dominance from Lester was exactly what the doctor ordered for the 27-year-old left-hander, and the kind of vintage outing that could bring everything shooting back for him.

Jon was terrific. He had a chance at a Major League strikeout record if I left him in and he struck everybody out, said Bobby Valentine, who mercifully removed his lefty after six innings and 101 pitches. He was pitching so well and he wasnt getting any wins. Pitching well now and then getting the win? That kind of thing might just get him on a roll.

The southpaw fanned a season-high 12 Indians hitters in Bostons 14-1 drubbing of the Tribe at Progressive Field, and allowed only three hits and one earned run in a performance everybody around the Red Sox has been waiting for.

The waiting list includes, of course, Lester himself.

Its big. Its nice. I struggled a little bit early on getting into the strike zone. But then we were able to settle in and move the ball around the plate, said Lester. I had my curveball for strikes and for chase swings. You dont have that a lot of times, so it was nice to have. Well build off that.

It sounds bad but there comes a point where you have to stop worrying about your stats and just worry about keeping your team in the game. Thats what I have kind of come to since my bad one against Toronto: just keep them in the game and in striking distance. Everything else will take care of itself. Its easier said than done, but its one of those deals where I just have to pitch.

The pitcher had stopped keeping track of his own personal stats, and that seemed to be when the turnaround occurred. Over the last four starts since the 11-run debacle against Toronto, hes 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and has fanned 29 hitters in his last 26 23 innings pitched.

The 12 strikeouts, and the rapid rise of his swing-and-miss ratio over those last four starts, is exactly what the doctor ordered to start building back Lesters mound swagger. It was against a weak Cleveland lineup on Sunday, but it was also unmistakable as two out of every three outs record was a punch-out.

I know what type of pitcher I am. I knew that my stuff was there, said Lester. I would have liked to have gone another inning or two rather than the 12 Ks, but theyre nice. Its a confidence-booster when I throw the pitches Ive been throwing all year and I get some swings and misses.

Lester had everything working against the Tribe: the mid-90s fastball, the biting curve and the cut fastball with the slider action. It all locked in after immediately being put on his heels in the first inning when handed a 3-0 lead right out of the gate courtesy of an Adrian Gonzalez home run.

Lester was faced with first-and-third with nobody out right out of the gate in the first inning, and he managed to get out of the jam while surrendering only a single run. The Sox offense brought the thunder for the rest of the game to the tune of 14 runs and 16 hits, and Lester cruised.

Getting out of that jam was just as vital a confidence-builder as the dozen strikeouts because it was those very same jams that have morphed into mushroom clouds on Lester all year-long. Its the reason why a hurler with his stuff still has a 5.20 ERA and a 6-10 record this year.

But it sounds like Lester has finally turned the corner.

Limiting damage is big. To limit them to one run in that first inning situation was exactly the kind of thing Ive been missing all year, said Lester. You need those innings wHere you get into jams and you limit them to one, or maybe two. This year its been three, four or five run rallies, so it was nice to get out with just one and allow the offense to go to work.

Time will tell whether the lefty did it soon enough to possibly get the Red Sox back into a fading playoff picture. But just having the old Lester back after a season lost at sea is good news in and of itself.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.